Wednesday 23rd of November
It was one degree this morning but the sky was blue and cloudless. It was time to leave Madrid and head north to Santander and relax for a few days before boarding the ferry to Portsmouth on Saturday afternoon. Sounds like a simple stress free plan eh? However, read on…
After breakfast we set off early (for us) at 9am and before getting on to the city bypass I decided to service the van, dumping the waste water, emptying the toilet and filling up with fresh water, something we’ve done hundreds of times over the years.
There were workmen working on the service area when we arrived on Sunday but there was no sign of them this morning and as I reversed Bessie over the drain there was a scraping noise which we both thought was the exhaust pipe grounding.
When it was time to fill the fresh water we knew we had a major problem as the water was gushing out under Bessie and I could see there was a metal bracket on the ground attached to a hose. I drove off the newly concreted service area and stopped just before the barrier. The exhaust was intact but we couldn’t move with this piece of metal scraping along the ground.
I went to the reception and explained what had happened and the guy came out and saw the problem. He phoned the owner who arrived within ten minutes and after a discussion in rapid fire Spanish they summoned a nearby workman who was sent under Bessie with a couple of cable ties to hold the piece of metal up off the ground.
When the worker was under Bessie a Spanish van reversed on to the service area (above) but as he was a metre and a half shorter than Bessie he didn’t bottom, although he was very close to doing so. At least the owner got to see what the problem was and he admitted they were responsible (which they were) due to the bad design of the ramp up to the service area and they would send us to a motorhome repair garage who would fix it immediately, free of charge.
Hopefully they could as it would save an insurance claim and allow us to fill the tank with fresh water. Long story short, after eventually finding the place all locked up and no-one to be seen, two blokes turned up and proceeded to shuffle vans about so I could get Bessie inside.
The older of the two got to work right away and put one of those huge jacks under Bessie to lift her up and started pumping on the lever before an almighty bang saw the jack shoot backwards and it was now broken beyond repair!
Using our levelling blocks and two car jacks which should never have been used it gave him enough height to get under and bolt the metal thingy back in place.
He did not speak a work of English so we communicated via Google Translate and he said it would be watertight but I wanted to make sure and used his hose to fill the tank and indeed it was perfecto! I let him reverse Bessie out as it was like the wacky races on the road outside with delivery vans buzzing about and parked wherever they wanted to park!
After a fair few muchos graciases we were on our way a couple of hours later than planned but all was well with Bessie and that was the main thing. A quick pit stop for diesel and we were heading north again in the direction of Burgos. The roads were quiet, the sky blue and cloudless. What could possibly go wrong now?
Those who have driven this road will know that it’s a dual carriage-way and easy to drive, and although high in elevation, there are no huge ascents or descents but there are mountains that start off in the distance but you end up driving through and it was obvious that where Madrid had heavy rain overnight, it fell as snow in the mountains.
With the signs saying Burgos was 150km away we could see mountains in the distance covered in snow and as we drove on those mountains got closer until we were driving through them and thankfully the dual carriage-way was clear.
As we started to climb through the mountains the blue sky had long gone and thick grey clouds descended ever lower, so low that at one point we could not see the top of the nearby wind turbines!
There was snow right at the side of the road and it was then as we climbed to over 3,000 feet that we noticed snow ploughs sitting beside every junction. We would go on to count 28 in total on our way to Santander.
We made it to Burgos and for those that have driven this road you know that it is literally downhill all the way to the coast so the threat of snow should be behind us.
Due to roadworks in Burgos we were diverted off the dual carriageway and we ended up on a normal two lane road for almost fifty miles and the snow was heavier than ever but at least the road was clear thanks to all the snow ploughs.
We made it back onto the main dual carriageway eventually and descended into a grey and gloomy Santander and our campsite for the next three nights at Camping Virgen Del Mar.
Saturday 26th of November
After setting up on the campsite on Wednesday afternoon we had walked across and took in the view out to sea and the little island of Isla de la Virgen del Mar which only has a church to commend it. This coastline is barren and the waves were crashing against the rocks but with a bit of imagination you could envisage crowds of people here in the summer enjoying the sandy beach and water-sports like windsurfing, but not this afternoon.
Although there was no snow down here on the coast, there was a biting cold wind so we retreated into the Bambara Tavern for a quick drink and admire the rather quirky interior which celebrated the British involvement in Africa with pictures, spears and other memorabilia adorning the walls.
We hunkered down for the next couple of days as the wind and rain battered poor Bessie who has endured temperatures ranging from freezing to the high 80s in the last few weeks.
The site is one of those old fashioned types which was laid out back in the day when there were no motorhomes to speak of and caravans were half the size of todays monsters. The only sign of life out of the window was a handyman pollarding the many trees originally planted years ago to offer shade but today makes it hazardous in the extreme to manoeuvre a big girl like Bessie onto a pitch.
Hands up who has heard the word pollarding before. Well done to Linda back in El Campello who has just messaged to say that some of the trees there are starting to be pollarded. The Navigator thought that was a typo and had to Google it to check what it meant! .
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The facilities are equally antiquated by today’s standards but are clean and plentiful. The showers are odd in that you have to take your clothes off outside the small cubicle before showering and coming back out into the communal area (naked) to get dried and dressed.
I took advantage of the inclusive electricity to plug the laptop in to work on Fyne Editions and add new titles to keep expanding the listings and had a very productive couple of days with the heating on all the time to keep us comfortable. This site is not cheap but we certainly got our monies worth from the electricity supply.
As storm Arwen battered Scotland and the north we are getting similarly pounded by the gale force wind. Our position on the site is broadside onto the wind coming in from the nearby sea and last night through to this morning was probably the worst night we have ever endured in our two motorhomes and two caravans. The red arrow shows the wind direction and the small white rectangle depicts roughly where Bessie was.
There was no prospect of Bessie tipping over as she tops the scales at around four and a half tons but the wind on the side of the van made it feel like we were in a tumble dryer on a full spin cycle and as we couldn’t sleep at all we had to lie there all night waiting for the roof lights to come off as they were taking an incredible pummelling from the broadside gale force wind.
It was hard not to think what the 29 hour crossing was going to be like later today and I think we’ll retire to the cabin and try and sleep through it!
Daylight seemed to calm the raging storm a little and after a decent breakfast The Navigator was dispatched to the reception to collect printed copies of our Passenger Locator Forms before we leave the site. The site was busier last night as Brits in motorhomes and caravans arrived from all over Spain for the sailing home on the Saturday afternoon.
The sailing was scheduled for 3pm but before that there are two things to be accomplished. First is to find a Mercadona (where else?) for some final provisioning for the journey and then top up the tanks with diesel which is much cheaper than back in the UK at the minute.
Those missions accomplished we headed the short distance through Santander to the ferry port, arriving at noon.
The first check in desk is manned by Brittany Ferries staff and, as on the outward journey, The Navigator handed over our two plastic folders containing our Covid certificates, Passenger Locator Forms and our passports.
It only took a few minutes for everything to be checked and handed back to us with our cabin cards and we drove onto a line with some lorries and other motorhomes.
At the next booth it was Spanish customs checking our passports. I handed them both over at the page they were stamped coming over and he looked at that date then stamped the passport to check us out of Shengen. After that he put the passports in a machine which scanned and registered our details electronically which I could see on his monitor.
All being well we were moved on to the next queue right beside the Galicia which loomed over us. It was here that Guardia Civil police officers checked our garage and wardrobes for stowaways and thankfully didn’t check our duty free allowance or contents of our fridge for alleged prohibited meat and dairy products.
All being well again it wasn’t long before we were moving onto the ship and we found ourselves in our cabin a good ninety minutes before departure.
The Navigator had prepared a bag of food, snacks and drinks so we had some ham sandwiches in the cabin before heading up on the top deck to take in the view of Santander and the state of the sea.
The sea was deceptively flat calm as the harbour is sheltered and there were quite a few small sail boats tacking round the buoys. At 3pm an announcement came over the tannoy that everyone out on deck had to come inside for safety reasons because of the conditions out at sea.
Hardly a comforting announcement but it proved to be accurate as after only a few minutes underway, and after rounding a rocky headland, the Galicia started pitching up and down and rolling from side to side.
At this point we decided to head back to the comfort and warmth of our cabin leaving a packed bar area and people sitting in the lounges. Given the forecast for the Bay of Biscay and the journey ahead that to us was a brave move.
We had an exterior cabin this time and after watching the turbulent sea for a few minutes settled down to watch a rather good film, which we’ve both forgotten the name of!
Our allotted dinner time was 7.30pm British time which was quite a long wait but come that time we headed for the restaurant, both feeling OK and that’s when the reality of life on a ship crashing through the Bay of Biscay waves struck home.
We’ve all seen film of weightless astronauts in space who cannot keep their feet on a solid surface and that’s what it was like walking to the restaurant at the other end of the ship.
Fortunately there were rails to hold on to but it was a struggle to do so. When we got to the head of the queue I had to release my hand from the rail to get my key card from my wallet for the head waiter at a lectern to tick us off his list.
Just as he did so and a waitress came to show us to our table the ship crashed into a wave and as I was still trying to get the key card back into my wallet and wasn’t holding on to a rail I lurched forward taking the lectern and the waiter back a yard or so before we all regained our balance!
Once seated, we ordered, and when the starters came The Navigator’s Caesar salad matched the colour of her face, a fetching shade of green!
“How’s yours?” I ventured.
“Lovely, but I think I’ll leave the lettuce,” she replied.
My mind took me back to this exact time on the outward journey when, as soon as our delicious main courses arrived, The Navigator had to depart in a marked manner for our cabin, although she wasn’t sick on that occasion.
Our delicious looking main courses were served and guess what happened this time? Suffice to say she was sick, but luckily our napkins and paper place mats managed to contain it all. Oh, and the woman next to us chipped in with her napkin and the cheery message that her friend was back in her cabin flat out on her bed too afraid of the consequences of getting on her feet to come for dinner!
This time I went back to the cabin with her, both out of sympathy, and the feeling I might succumb as well. My anti sea sickness cure down the years has always been to lie down and I wanted back to the cabin to put that into practice.
In bed for just after 8pm and asleep almost immediately, I woke just after 1am, had a sip of water, fell asleep again and did not wake till just after 8am feeling fine, to find The Navigator had a great sleep too and wasn’t feeling rough.
Two still pictures will never replicate the strength of the wind, height of the waves or movement of the ship…
Sunday 28th of November
I could tell, even in the darkness, that the sea had calmed down and this was confirmed when the blind was opened. Although still lumpy it was nothing like the night before and after showering we went for breakfast and I enjoyed a full English and The Navigator enjoyed her Continental.
At this stage we were passing the coast of Brittany and picked up a signal to inform the family we were OK and over the worst part of the journey (hopefully). Back in the cabin we relaxed watching another film, ‘The Little Things’, starring Denzel Washington who has never made a bad film in his life – in my humble opinion.
We were both feeling tip top again so when the tannoy announced that lunch was being served we went along to the front of the ship and both enjoyed a meal looking out through the panoramic windows at the sea ahead with some large ships on the horizon.
Back in the cabin we watched our third film, a Rom Com type film called ‘Like A Boss’ which had no Rom and little Com but it passed another couple of hours. Can you tell I was brought up watching Barry Norman review films in my early days?
After this last offering we had a walk about the ship although there were not too many doing likewise. A final cuppa in the bar and on the way back to the cabin we could see that land was ahoy now.
With about half an hour to go our deck level was informed over the tannoy to make our way to our vehicles which were now all unshackled and ready for the off.
The many motorhomes were first off and at customs we handed over our passports to be scanned again and then, as with all the other vans, the customs officer came inside and checked the wardrobes but not the garage where at least half a dozed illegals could have been secreted!
And that was it. No Passenger Locator Forms or Covid Certificates were asked for and we were on the M275 less than half an hour from the ship docking.
It was dark and sleety snow was trying to land and right from Portsmouth there were signs it had been snowing earlier. We headed for Ashby de la Zouch and arrived at 11.40pm to hunker down for the night in the Ashby Park Business Park, just off the A42, a place I have wild camped before.
After a good nights sleep we woke to snow covered surroundings and a temperature of -3c. It was strange to set off when the temperature was 29f and arrive in Argyll 375 miles further north where it was 59f!
Sunday 29th of November
We set off just after 8am heading for Leeds to pick up our lateral flow test kits from Emma. We had them sent to her as we were not sure we could get back to Argyll to test within the required two days with such a terrible weather forecast.
As it happens there was a lot of snow, especially in Yorkshire but the roads were magically clear. We had seen 28 snow ploughs between Madrid and Santander but in our 500+ mile journey from Portsmouth to Ardrishaig we saw only one at the Shap in Cumbria!
The M62 was busy but the traffic kept moving and we just kept going. I have a whole host of places I know to wild camp and thought we might make it to Carlisle but the traffic was light on the M6/M74 so I kept going and we were home before 6pm, 22 hours after leaving Portsmouth with an overnight and a pit stop in Leeds!
I say we were home but we weren’t really as it was lashing down, so, as Bessie was nice and warm and all our food was in the van, we had dinner and slept in the van for one last night in the parking spaces at the bottom of our street.
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The house was freezing and we enjoyed a log fire every night for the first week until the weather got a bit milder, although no less wet and windy!
It took a full day to unload Bessie and extract everything that that had been put in all the nooks and crannies. Suffice to say we won’t be short of wine over the festive period!
Bessie is now back in storage for a well earned rest and I have to say what a star she was all the way there and back. You can see from the picture below the details of the drive.
As this is the last blog post of 2021 The Navigator and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thank you for following our adventures and for your comments. Our family are coming to Argyll for Christmas and we are both looking forward to all being together again, something we were deprived of last Christmas!
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COMING SOON ON THE NEXT BLOG...
Bessie will be in action again in January to keep the batteries topped up if nothing else. The Navigator is working for a week in February so it may well be a solo trip this time (Yippee). Negotiations are still under way on that one…
Looking further ahead we will start to plan our next big trip starting in March soon and we will be back to touring again and have a provisional route in mind. Stay tuned to find out more…